Matthew 12:40
For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(40) As Jonas was three days and three nights.—To understand the words rightly, we have to remember the prominence which our Lord gives to the history of Jonah, and to the repentance of the men of Nineveh, in this and in the parallel passage of Luke 11:29, and in answer to another demand for a sign in Matthew 16:4. In the other passages “the sign of the prophet Jonas” appears with a vague mysteriousness, unexplained. Not a few critics have accordingly inferred from this difference that the explanation given by St. Matthew was an addition to the words actually spoken by our Lord, and that “the sign of the prophet Jonas” was sufficiently fulfilled by His preaching repentance to the wicked and adulterous generation as Jonah had done to the Ninevites. Against this view, however, it may be urged:—(1) That Jonah’s work as a preacher was not a “sign” in any sense, and that nothing in his history had this character, except the two narratives of the whale (Jonah 1:17) and the gourd (Jonah 4:6-10). Any reference to the latter is, of course, out of the question; and it remains therefore, in any case, that we must look to the former as that to which our Lord alluded. (2) That the very difficulty presented by the prediction of “three days and three nights” as compared with the six-and-thirty hours (two nights and one day) of the actual history of the Resurrection, is against the probability of the verse having been inserted as a prophecy after the event. (3) That if we believe that our Lord had a distinct prevision of His resurrection, and foretold it, sometimes plainly and sometimes in dark sayings—and of this the Gospels leave no room for doubt (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 26:32; John 2:19)—then the history of Jonah presented an analogy which it was natural that He should notice. It does not necessarily follow that this use of the history as a prophetic symbol of the Resurrection requires us to accept it in the very letter of its details. It was enough, for the purposes of the illustration, that it was familiar and generally accepted. The purely chronological difficulty is explained by the common mode of speech among the Jews, according to which, any part of a day, though it were but a single hour, was for legal purposes considered as a whole. An instance of this mode of speech is found in 1Samuel 30:12-13, and it is possible that in the history of Jonah itself the measurement of time is to be taken with the same laxity.

Some incidental facts are worth noticing: (1) that the word translated “whale” may stand vaguely for any kind of sea-monster; (2) that “the heart of the earth,” standing parallel as it does to “the heart of the seas,” the “belly of hell”—i.e., Sheol and Hades—in Jonah 2:2-3, means more than the rock-hewn sepulchre, and implies the descent into Hades, the world of the dead, which was popularly believed to be far below the surface of the earth; (3) that the parable has left its mark on Christian art, partly in the constant use of Jonah as a type of our Lord’s resurrection, and partly in that of the jaws of a great whale-like monster as the symbol of Hades; (4) that the special character of the psalm in Jonah 2, corresponding as it does so closely (Jonah 2:6) with Psalm 16:10-11, may well be thought to have prompted our Lord’s reference to it.

12:38-45 Though Christ is always ready to hear and answer holy desires and prayers, yet those who ask amiss, ask and have not. Signs were granted to those who desired them to confirm their faith, as Abraham and Gideon; but denied to those who demanded them to excuse their unbelief. The resurrection of Christ from the dead by his own power, called here the sign of the prophet Jonah, was the great proof of Christ's being the Messiah. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale, and then came out again alive, thus Christ would be so long in the grave, and then rise again. The Ninevites would shame the Jews for not repenting; the queen of Sheba, for not believing in Christ. And we have no such cares to hinder us, we come not to Christ upon such uncertainties. This parable represents the case of the Jewish church and nation. It is also applicable to all those who hear the word of God, and are in part reformed, but not truly converted. The unclean spirit leaves for a time, but when he returns, he finds Christ is not there to shut him out; the heart is swept by outward reformation, but garnished by preparation to comply with evil suggestions, and the man becomes a more decided enemy of the truth. Every heart is the residence of unclean spirits, except those which are temples of the Holy Ghost, by faith in Christ.For as Jonas was three days ... - See Jonah 1:17

This event took place in the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Joppa and Tarshish, when he was fleeing from Nineveh. It is said that the "whale" seldom passes into that sea, and that its throat is too small to admit a man. It is probable, therefore, that a fish of the "shark kind" is intended. Sharks have been known often to swallow a man entire. The fish in the book of Jonah is described merely as a "great fish," without specifying the kind. It is well known that the Greek word translated whale, in the New Testament, does not of necessity mean a whale, but may denote a large fish or sea-monster of any kind. - Robinson, Lexicon.

Three days and three nights - It will be seen in the account of the resurrection of Christ that he was in the grave but two nights and a part of three days. See Matthew 18:6. This computation is, however, strictly in accordance with the Jewish mode of reckoning. If it had "not" been, the Jews would have understood it, and would have charged our Saviour as being a false prophet, for it was well known to them that he had spoken this prophecy, Matthew 27:63. Such a charge, however, was never made; and it is plain, therefore, that what was "meant" by the prediction was accomplished. It was a maxim, also, among the Jews, in computing time, that a part of a day was to be received as the whole. Many instances of this kind occur in both sacred and profane history. See 2 Chronicles 10:5, 2 Chronicles 10:12; Genesis 42:17-18. Compare Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1.

In the heart of the earth - The Jews used the word "heart" to denote the "interior" of a thing, or to speak of being in a thing. It means, here, to be in the grave or sepulchre.

40. For as Jonas was—"a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation" (Lu 11:30). For as Jonas was

three days and three nights in the whale's belly—(Jon 1:17).

so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth—This was the second public announcement of His resurrection three days after His death. (For the first, see Joh 2:19). Jonah's case was analogous to this, as being a signal judgment of God; reversed in three days; and followed by a glorious mission to the Gentiles. The expression "in the heart of the earth," suggested by the expression of Jonah with respect to the sea (2:3, in the Septuagint), means simply the grave, but this considered as the most emphatic expression of real and total entombment. The period during which He was to lie in the grave is here expressed in round numbers, according to the Jewish way of speaking, which was to regard any part of a day, however small, included within a period of days, as a full day. (See 1Sa 30:12, 13; Es 4:16; 5:1; Mt 27:63, 64, &c.).

Ver. 39,40. An evil and adulterous generation; either called adulterous for that specific sin, which reigned amongst them, and indeed their polygamy was hardly better; or else because of their degeneracy from Abraham, whom they so much gloried in as their father, John 8:39,44.

Seeketh after a sign; not satisfied with my miracles which I do on earth, they would have a sign from heaven. God was not difficult of confirming and encouraging people’s faith by signs; he gave Gideon a sign upon his asking, he gave Hezekiah and proffered Ahaz a sign without asking; but he had already given the Pharisees signs enough, and sufficient to convince them, but they would not believe, but out of curiosity would have a sign of another kind, a sign from heaven, as Mark expounds it, Matthew 8:11, such a sign as the devil could not counterfeit.

There shall no sign be given to it; no sign of that nature, for we shall find that after this Christ wrought many miracles. But they shall have a sign when I shall be risen again from the dead, to their confusion and condemnation; when I shall answer the prophet Jonah’s type of me. He was cast into the sea, and was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, in the heart of the sea, Jonah 1:17, and then the whale vomited (him) out upon the dry land, Jonah 2:10. So I shall be by them violently put to death and shall be in the grave part of three days and three nights, and then I shall rise again from the dead.

But here ariseth a difficulty. Christ indeed dying the day before the Jewish sabbath, and rising the morning after, might be said to be in the grave three days, because he was there part of three days; but how can he be said to have been there three nights? For he was only in the grave the night of the Jewish sabbath, (for their sabbath began at the evening before), and the night following, which were but two nights, either in whole or in part.

Answer: What we call day and night made up the Jewish nucyhmeron. It appears by Genesis 1:5, that the evening and the morning made up a day. Three days and three nights is with us but the same thing with three natural days, and so it must be understood here. Christ was in the grave three natural days, that is, part of three natural days; every one of which days contained a day and a night, viz. twenty-four hours.

For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly,.... Or "in the belly of a great fish", as is said, Jonah 1:17 for that it was a whale, is not there said, nor is it certain it was; nor from the smallness of its swallow, is it thought probable it should; nor does the word here used, necessarily imply one, but some large fish; nor are there whales in the Phoenician Sea: it might be a kind of a sea dog, called Carcharias, and sometimes Lamia, or Lamina, from its vast swallow; in which whole men; even in coats of mail, have been found. However, be it what it will, Jonas was three days and three nights in the belly of it; which agrees with the account in the above mentioned place, and is the sign Christ speaks of in the foregoing verse; and a very great sign and miracle it was, that being swallowed down by such a fish, he should remain in the belly of it three days and three nights, as one dead; for, without a miracle, he could not have lived an hour; and on the third day, as one raised from the dead, be cast out of it upon the dry land; which was a very eminent type of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, as appears by what follows. The Jews reckon up several wonders or miracles in this case of Jonah's; as that a fish was prepared to swallow him up, and he not drowned in the sea; and that this was prepared for him from the creation of the world; that he should be three days and three nights in the fish's belly, and be alive; and that he should retain his senses and his understanding, so as to be able to pray: they represent him also as if he was in the state of the dead (l), and that the fish itself was dead, and was quickened again. According to Josephus, after he had been carried 250 miles in the Hellespont of the Euxine Sea, he was cast ashore (m).

So shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. That Christ means himself by the "son of man", there is no reason to doubt; and his being laid in a tomb, dug out of a rock, is sufficient to answer this phrase, "the heart of the earth", in distinction from the surface of it; but some difficulty arises about the time of his continuing there, and the prediction here made agreeable to the type: for it was on the sixth day of the week, we commonly call "Friday", towards the close, on the day of the preparation for the sabbath, and when the sabbath drew on, that the body of Christ was laid in the sepulchre; where it lay all the next day, which was the sabbath of the Jews, and what we commonly call "Saturday"; and early on the first of the week, usually called "Sunday", or the Lord's day, he rose from the dead; so that he was but one whole day, and part of two, in the grave. To solve this difficulty, and set the matter in a clear light, let it be observed, that the three days and three nights, mean three natural days, consisting of day and night, or twenty four hours, and are what the Greeks call "night days"; but the Jews have no other way of expressing them, but as here; and with them it is a well known rule, and used on all occasions, as in the computation of their feasts and times of mourning, in the observance of the passover, circumcision, and divers purifications, that , "a part of a day is as the whole" (n): and so, whatever was done before sun setting, or after, if but an hour, or ever so small a time, before or after it, it was reckoned as the whole preceding, or following day; and whether this was in the night part, or day part of the night day, or natural day, it mattered not, it was accounted as the whole night day: by this rule, the case here is easily adjusted; Christ was laid in the grave towards the close of the sixth day, a little before sun setting, and this being a part of the night day preceding, is reckoned as the whole; he continued there the whole night day following, being the seventh day; and rose again early on the first day, which being after sun setting, though it might be even before sun rising, yet being a part of the night day following, is to be esteemed as the whole; and thus the son of man was to be, and was three days and three nights in the grave; and which was very easy to be understood by the Jews; and it is a question whether Jonas was longer in the belly of the fish.

(l) R. David Kimchi & Jarchi, in Jonah i. 17. & ii. 1. Zohar in Exod. fol. 20. 3. & 78. 3.((m) Antiq. 1. 9. c. 18. (n) T. Hieros. Pesach. fol. 31. 2. T. Bab. Moed. Katon, fol. 16. 2. 17. 2. 19. 2. & 20. 2. Bechorot, fol. 20. 2. & 21. 1, Nidda, fol. 33. 1. Maimon. Hilch. Ebel, c. 7. sect. 1, 2, 3. Aben Ezra in Leviticus 12.3.

For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 12:40. Τοῦ κήτους] the monster of the deep, Hom. Il. v. 148; Od. iv. 446; Buttmann, Lexil. II. p. 95. The allusion is to the well-known story in Jonah 2:1.

Jesus was dead only a day and two nights. But, in accordance with the popular method of computation (1 Samuel 30:12 f.; Matthew 27:63), the parts of the first and third day are counted as whole days, as would be further suggested by the parallel that is drawn between the fate of the antitype and that of Jonah.[446]

The sign of Jonah has nothing to do with the withered rod that budded, Numbers 17 (in answer to Delitzsch); Jonah is the type.

[446] But the question as to what Jesus meant by ἔσταιἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ τῆς γῆς, whether His lying in the grave (so the greater number of expositors), or His abode in Hades (Tertullian, Irenaeus, Theophylact, Bellarmin, Maldonatus, Olshausen, König, Lehre von Christi Höllenfahrt, Frankf. 1842, p. 54; Kahnis, Dogmat. I. p. 508), is determined by καρδία τἥς γῆς, to which expression the resting in the grave does not sufficiently correspond; for the heart of the earth can only indicate its lowest depths, just as καρδία τῆς θαλάσσης means the depths of the sea in Jonah 2:4, from which the biblical expression καρδία in our present passage seems to have been derived. Again, the parallel in the κοιλία τοῦ κήτους is, in any case, better suited to the idea of Hades than it is to that of a grave cut out of the rock on the surface of the earth. If, on the other hand, Jesus Himself has very distinctly intimated that His dying was to be regarded as a descending into Hades (Luke 23:43), then ἔσταιἐν τῇ καρδ. τ. γ. must be referred to His sojourn there. There is nothing to warrant Güder (Erschein. Chr. unter d. Todten, p. 18) in disputing this reference by pointing to such passages as Exodus 15:8; 2 Samuel 18:14. We should mistake the plastic nature of the style in such passages as those, if we did not take לֵכ as referring to the inmost depth.

REMARK.

Luke (Matthew 11:30) gives no explanation of the sign of Jonah (Matthew 5:40), as is also the case with regard to Matthew 16:4 (where, indeed, according to Holtzmann, we have only a duplicate of the present narrative). Modern critics (Paulus, Eckermann, Schleiermacher, Dav. Schulz, Strauss, Neander, Krabbe, de Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius, Ammon, Bleek, Weizsäcker, Schenkel) have maintained that what Jesus meant by the sign of Jonah was not His resurrection at all, but His preaching and His whole manifestation, so that Matthew 12:40 is supposed to be an “awkward interpolation,” belonging to a later period (Keim), an interpolation in which it is alleged that an erroneous interpretation is put into Jesus’ mouth. But (1) if in Matthew 12:41 it is only the preaching of Jonah that is mentioned, it is worthy of notice that what is said regarding the sign is entirely brought to a close in Matthew 12:40, whereupon, by way of threatening the hearers and putting them to shame, Matthew 12:41 proceeds to state, not what the Ninevites did in consequence of the sign, but what they did in consequence of the preaching of Jonah; and therefore (2) it is by no means presupposed in Matthew 12:41 that the Ninevites had been made aware of the prophet’s fate. (3) Of course, according to the historical sense of the narrative, this fate consisted in the prophet’s being punished, and then pardoned again; but according to its typical reference, it at the same time constituted a σημεῖον, deriving its significance for after times from its antitype as realized in Christ’s resurrection; that it had been a sign for the Ninevites, is nowhere said. (4) If Jesus is ranked above Jonah in respect of His person or preaching, not in respect of the sign, this, according to what has been said under observation 1, in no way affects the interpretation of the sign. (5) The resurrection of Jesus was a sign not merely for believers, but also for unbelievers, who either accepted Him as the Risen One, or became only the more confirmed in their hostility toward him. (6) Matthew 12:40 savours entirely of the mode and manner in which Jesus elsewhere alludes to His resurrection. Of course, in any case, he is found to predict it only in an obscure sort of way (see on Matthew 14:21), not plainly and in so many words; and accordingly we do not find it more directly intimated in Matthew 12:40, which certainly it would have been if it had been an interpretation of the sign put into the Lord’s mouth ex eventu. The expression is a remarkable parallel to John 2:21, where John’s explanation of it as referring to the resurrection has been erroneously rejected. It follows from all this that, so far as the subject-matter is concerned, the version of Luke 11:30 is not to be regarded as differing from that of Matthew, but only as less complete, though evidently proceeding on the understanding that the interpretation of the Jonah-sign is to be taken for granted (Matthew 16:4).

Matthew 12:40 gives an entirely different turn to the reference. he verse cannot be challenged on critical grounds. If it is an interpolation, it must have become an accepted part of the text before the date of our earliest copies. If it be genuine, then Jesus points to His resurrection as the appropriate sign for an unbelieving generation, saying in effect: you will continue to disbelieve in spite of all I can say or do, and at last you will put me to death. But I will rise again, a sign for your confusion if not for your conversion. For opposite views on this interpretation of the sign of Jonah, vide Meyer ad loc. and Holtzmann in H.C.

40. Jonah is a sign (1) as affording a type of the Resurrection, (2) as a preacher of righteousness to a people who needed repentance as this generation needs it.

the whale’s belly] The Greek word translated “whale” means “a sea monster.” The O. T. rendering is more accurate “the fish’s belly” (Jonah 2:1), “a great fish” (Jonah 1:17). It is scarcely needful to note that there are no whales in the Mediterranean.

Matthew 12:40. Ἰωνὰς, Jonas) Jonas did not then die, but yet it was as much believed that he would not return from the fish, as it was that Jesus would not return from the heart of the earth; yet both of them did return.—ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ τοῦ κήτους, in the belly of the whale) We ought not to doubt that Jonah was in the belly of the whale, on account of the narrow throat of some animals of that kind. For there are various sorts of whales, and in these days, the bodies of men are found in their stomachs; and even if such were not the case, we must suppose that fish especially made for the occasion; see Jonah 2:1.—ἔσται, shall be) A sign for the future, as in John 2:19; John 6:62; John 6:39.—γῆς, of the earth) From thence shall they have a sign, and not one from heaven before that, although they sought it thence; cf. Luke 11:16. No signs, except such as were exhibited from the earth, and performed for the good of men, were suitable to the Messiah’s state of humiliation. They did not know that the sign of that time was suitable to that time; see ch. Matthew 16:3. Afterwards signs were shown, and shall be shown from heaven: see Acts 2:19; Matthew 24:30.—τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ τρεῖς νύκτας, three days and three nights) No one doubts that Jesus was in the heart of the earth three days.—He remained there however only two nights, as far as night signifies the darkness interposed between day and day (cf. Mark 14:30); and yet the calculation of three days, and the same number of nights, holds good if you do not interpret it with astronomical exactness, but resolve it by synecdoche. For three days and three nights are the periphrasis of a single idea, and have the force of a single word and term, if such existed, by which the remaining of Jesus in the sepulchre is expressed, as if you should say a-space-of-three-days-and-nights (triduinoctium), or three-nights-and-days (tria noctidua). Three days might have been simply expressed, but this is the idiom of the sacred style, that in indicating continuous time the intervening nights are added; see ch. Matthew 4:2; Genesis 7:4; 1 Samuel 30:12-13; Job 2:13. And then it sounds better to say[581] three days and three nights, than three days and two nights, although the Lord was buried on the actual day of the preparation, not on the night preceding and joined to it, and the space of twenty-four hours is regarded simply as a natural day without the change of darkness and light; and in fact the first night-and-day, used synecdochically,[582] was from about the tenth hour of the Friday up to the night exclusively;[583] the second and fullest, from the beginning of that night up to the end of the Sabbath and beginning of the following night; the third, strictly speaking, from the beginning of the following night up to the resurrection of the Lord, and the rising of the sun on Sunday morning. Two nights, therefore, were certainly joined with two days; nor does one night taken from one day, i.e. the first, affect the truth of the language, which denominates the thing in question from its superior part (locutionis a potiori[584] rem denominantis). In fine, there were not two nights and days, nor four; therefore there were three. The Hebrew mode of expression is agreeable to this; concerning which, see Lightfoot and Wolfe on this passage, and Michaelis on Joshua 2:16. Although what I have here said may satisfy a reader who is not unreasonable, I would also further observe, that the synecdoche does not belong so much to the three-days-and-three-nights as to the actual remaining in the heart of the earth. Scripture indeed frequently defines a certain time, and expresses not the whole matter which commensurately and exactly occupied that time, but a part of the matter longer in duration than the other parts; as, for example, the four hundred and thirty years of the sojourning in Egypt, Exodus 12:40; and thus passim the whole book of Judges. In this passage, therefore, the remaining in the heart of the earth, i.e. in the sepulchre, is expressed, but at the same time the whole period of the Passion is implied, certainly from the agony in Gethsemane, when Jesus fell on the earth which He was the next day to enter, and from the capture by which the Jews commenced their undertaking to destroy that Temple (as Erasmus thinks, Annot. F. 134). Nay, the glorious beginning of the three days on Thursday is clearly intimated, in John 13:31 [comp. Harmon. Evang. p. 310, 366], as dating from the time when the Jews bargained for the Saviour, who was to be committed to the earth. The remaining in the earth, taken in a wider signification, includes all these things; see Psalm 71:20. For the Son of Man was a sign to that generation, not only in His sepulchre, but most especially in His passion; see John 8:28. In this manner, the three days and three nights are exactly completed from the dawn of Thursday to the dawn of Sunday. The time of the death of the two witnesses is exactly defined, Revelation 11, to be three and a half days; therefore we ought to consider that the three days and three nights of our Lord’s remaining in the middle of the earth have been also exactly defined. The middle, or heart, of the earth should not be precisely sought for; but these phrases are opposed to the earth itself, on the surface of which Christ dwelt for more than thirty years.

[581] In the original, “concinnius dicitur,” i.e. it sounds more systematic, it sounds more uniform, to say.—(I. B.)

[582] See Appendix on the figure Synecdoche.—(I. B.)

[583] The night not being included.—ED.

[584] “A potiori” implies that the whole twenty-four-hour-day (the first of the three in question) is denominated, not only from a part, but also from the superior part, viz. the part which had the daylight, and which is regarded as superior to the part during which darkness prevailed, viz. the night preceding Friday, and attached to it, according to the Jewish mode of counting.—ED.

Verse 40. - Matthew only. For as Jonas (Jonah, Revised Version) was three days and three nights in the whale's belly. Verbally from the LXX. of Jonah 1:17 (2:1). So shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Since, so far as the balance of evidence goes (cf., however, Bishop Westcott, 'Introduction,' p. 344, edit. 1872), the Crucifixion was on Friday and the Resurrection on Sunday, the actual time between them was only one clear day and two parts of days (which might fairly be called three days) and two whole nights. The reckoning, therefore, here is, strictly speaking, inaccurate. The words are perhaps a mere adaptation of the phrase in Jonah, and are here used only to roughly mark the time of our Lord's stay in the grave. Observe, however, that the addition of" nights" tends to emphasize the reality of our Lord's stay there. It was a matter of days and nights; he spent both kinds of earthly time "in the heart of the earth" (cf. Matthew 4:2, note). It will be noticed that the inaccuracy of the wording would, if modern Western habits were alone to be considered, make it most unlikely that the phrase is a later addition; but in view of the early Christian and Jewish method of illustrating events by passages of Scripture which do not apply in all respects, the improbability is not so great as would at first sight appear. However, upon our present information, we must say that the phrase was spoken by our Lord himself, and that although the exact time of his stay in the grave was well known to the early believers, they continued to repeat the saying in the form in which the Lord left it. In the heart of the earth. The form of the expression is derived from Jonah 2:3 (4), "in the heart of the seas" (cf. Exodus 15:8), and would therefore appear to mean some deeper place than the rock-hewn sepulchre. Hence many commentators, beginning with Irenaeus ('Adv. Haer.,' V. 31.) and Tertullian ('De Anima,' Iv.), understand it as directly denoting the place of departed spirits. Ephesians 4:9 ("the lower parts of the earth"), on the contrary, probably refers to the earth as such in contrast to heaven. Matthew 12:40The whale (τοῦ κήτους)

A general term for a sea-monster.

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